The number of female entrepreneurs is on the rise.
According to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, women now own 30 percent of all enterprises in the U.S., and started an average of 887 net new firms per day in 2014.
Since 1997, women-owned businesses have increased in number by 74 percent, grown revenues by 79 percent, and added nearly 1 million additional jobs.
Women are certainly proving their mettle when it comes to launching their own business. And as they continue to grow their businesses they reflect back on the work they have done, making it easy to share advice with other women interested in launching their own business.
Research, Get Support, and Launch
In a series of interviews with female leaders – a number of them CEOs – MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, asked each women what advice they have for women interested in launching their own businesses.
Two women in particular stood apart from the rest: Amy Palmer, the president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit that provides aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, their families and a growing veteran population; and Jennifer Windsor, the CEO of Women for Women International, a nonprofit that works directly with women who are isolated and displaced in post-war regions of the world.
When asked what advice she has for women launching their own businesses, Windsor said it’s important to plow ahead — with the right type and amount of support:
Go for it! Surround yourself with people who will support you and encourage you to keep going. Be prepared to work harder than you ever thought possible but always remember what inspired you in the first place.
In response to the same question, Palmer cited her experience specific to nonprofits, with a focus on both in-depth research and patience:
The best advice I have is to do your research and plan, plan, plan. When I work with others who are trying to start nonprofit organizations, I always advise them to talk to as many people as they can about their business idea. Some people assume that just because they believe in their idea and would be supportive of it, others will feel the same. I always challenge people to recruit 10 volunteers, get their first $1,000 donation commitment, and fill three board seats before they even consider launching. Many find out during this process that it's much harder than they thought to start a nonprofit. If you do the research and planning, then my next advice is to stick with it, trust your research and continue to plug away, one day at a time. It's hard work and a slow process, and it never happens at the pace you want.
Be Focused, Find a Niche, and Create Loyalty
For some star-power advice, we turned to Oprah. With a net worth of $3 billion, she is likely the single most successful female entrepreneur of all time.
In a Fast Company interview, Winfrey cites one of her big productivity secrets as her ability to be “fully present” — or what the writer refers to as a “radical focus.” Citing the journey in which she turned around her initially-struggling OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), she noted lessons-learned that included being in the moment, modifying her vision as needed, and having a trusted team to delegate to. For her, Oprah says that multitasking is not the path to getting the most done:
I have learned that your full-on attention for any activity you choose to experience comes with a level of intensity and truth. It’s about living a present life, moment to moment — not worrying about what’s going to happen at 3 o’clock and what’s going to happen at 7 o’clock … . That whole thing about multitasking? That’s a joke for me. When I try to do that, I don’t do anything well.
Another well-known female entrepreneur is catalog legend Lillian Vernon, founder of the Lillian Vernon Corporation. She started a multimillion-dollar business at her kitchen table more than 51 years ago — when she was pregnant with her first child, and in an era when women didn’t work, let alone launch their own businesses. In an interview with Business Know-How, Vernon cited a number of factors that have contributed to her success, including finding a niche, providing a personal touch, and being flexible while sticking to the mission:
Lillian Vernon Corporation is a leader in our industry for several reasons. First, we created a unique brand that stayed true to its niche … . The fact that our company is identified with a real person adds a personal touch to our business that helps retain customer loyalty … . Our company has planned the extension of our brand to meet the needs of an ever-changing consumer … . I credit our success to our capable and experienced management team who has always worked to preserve my ideals.
Line Up Your Pennies
Of course, startup funds and revenue are a huge deal for any entrepreneur — and lack thereof a recipe for failure. In an article for Forbes, Jeanne Sullivan, co-founder of venture capital firm StarVest Partners and chief inspiration officer at eProv Studio provided a number of tips for women who want to start a business. They include knowing your financials, not hesitating to ask people to invest and building a brain trust with a board of advisors: “A dynamic board early in your company’s life adds gravitas. Those advisers can be formidable references for you with an investor. They can guide you and they may lead you to your first customers.”
Having the right amount of support has been a common theme among those cited, and another who believes this is true is Katelyn Bourgoin — who launched her freelance PR business, and then realized she needed more help. True to her entrepreneurial spirit, she launched an additional endeavor to meet her needs — Vendeve — a site that serves as a network for women entrepreneurs. Part of her slogan? “You’re not alone. It takes a village to raise an entrepreneur…Vendeve is that village.”
If you’re considering launching your own business, then it may pay to take some advice from those who have done it successfully — and are part of a community that’s helping others to realize their dreams.